Create safe spaces for students in dorms

Anna Marlatt

When she was a freshman, Kelly had a panic attack in her dorm. It was 1 in the morning, her roommate was sleeping and all of the study rooms were taken. As a last resort, she ran up the stairwell of Jester East Residence Hall, hoping no one would walk in. This shouldn’t have happened, and it’s unfortunate she felt like there was nowhere in her building she could go to calm down.

After sharing her story with others, Kelly realized she wasn’t alone. Many of her friends have also needed some sort of safe space to get away and calm down on their own terms. These safe spaces would allow students on campus to relieve their anxiety in a place that is easily accessible all day, every day.

This is Kelly Choi’s story. She is a government sophomore and the Student Government Mental Health Agency co-director, and her story isn’t unique. To help students in desperate need of a calming place to de-escalate, University Housing and Dining should create designated safe spaces in all on-campus residence halls, and students should express their support by testifying at the student government assembly.

Safe spaces could be designated locations where students can receive short-term, 24/7 mental health resources. Having these spaces in residence halls would improve students’ accessibility in terms of both travel time and extended hours. 

“Safe spaces should feel cozy and private with different stations (meditation, deep breathing, etc.) people could go to and de-escalate,” Choi said in an email. Because this space needs to be private, the see-through glass study rooms on each floor of Jester, UT’s largest residence hall, would not presently qualify as a designated safe space. 

Plenty of students are already in favor of safe spaces. 

“It’s a good idea to provide safe spaces closer to where mostly freshmen (live) who are just transitioning into college,” psychology freshman Star Apura said in a direct message. “It’ll be easier for them to go to (the safe spaces), plus more students will be aware of them.” 

Safe spaces can also offer areas for breaks from roommates who may violate one’s privacy. 

“I feel like safe spaces are needed for students who have roommates that make them uncomfortable (or they) don’t like,” nursing freshman Lexi Paget said in a direct message. “Since their room isn’t a safe space for them, they need a place to go where they can feel at home, as well as a place to go to clear their mind and recenter.”

Furthermore, safe spaces normalize receiving help. 

“By putting (safe spaces) in a massive student environment, it shows and proves that there is a need for these services,” psychology freshman Ethan Glass said in a direct message. “This helps students not feel like an anomaly.”

With a considerable amount of student support already demonstrated, the natural next step is creating these spaces. So, how can students ensure UHD addresses their needs? Choi has already found the ideal avenue. 

“(Student Government’s Mental Health Agency) would pass legislation through student government mandating that these spaces are created,” Choi wrote. “Ideally, (UHD) would find unused space in every on-campus housing unit and turn them into safe spaces.”

The next step is creating support for the bill. Once enough people testify in its favor, the Student Government Assembly will vote to approve the mandate. 

“The UT community can (spread) awareness of this piece of legislation and (tell) the administration why it’s needed,” Choi said. “Furthermore, (the Mental Health Agency will) need people to testify for the bill during assembly.” 

For more information about testifying, students can contact the Mental Health Agency. 

In order for the bill to go through, the agency also needs support from relevant administrators and experts. I reached out to interview the residence life team to tackle this portion of the project’s success but was told the team first needs to gather more information before talking about the possibility of safe spaces.

Safe spaces are a powerful force that could improve the lives of many students for a variety of different reasons. Thus, while students may not share Kelly’s exact narrative, they do all have one thing in common: a need for a place to de-escalate. 

Marlatt is an international relations and global studies freshman from Missouri City, Texas.